Why Our Faith Is Key to Experiencing the Power of God

Why Our Faith Is Key to Experiencing the Power of God

Let’s begin with good news you wouldn’t think to be news: a Christian club in Michigan can legally require its leaders to be Christians.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a student ministry that provides community and Bible studies on college and university campuses. It has been part of Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, for seventy-five years. The club is open to all students, but it requires its leaders to agree with the organization’s statement of faith.

As the Becket Fund noted, Wayne State “rightly allows fraternities to have only male leaders, female athletic clubs to have only female members, and African-American clubs to have only African-American leaders.” However, it claimed that a Christian club should not be able to have only Christian leaders, deeming InterVarsity’s leadership policies “discriminatory” and de-registering the club in 2017.

Judge Robert H. Cleland of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled last week that the university’s actions “strike at the heart” of the First Amendment and are “obviously odious to the Constitution.” He added that the school’s attempts to dictate the club’s leadership are “categorically barred by the Constitution.”

Prince Philip’s “wonderful knowledge of the Bible”

This is not the only good news in the news. Premier Christian News is reporting that Prince Philip encouraged Queen Elizabeth II to talk more about her Christian faith ahead of her Christmas broadcast in 2000. Those who knew him well were not surprised.

The Rev. Prof. Ian Bradley has preached where the queen attends services when staying at Balmoral, her estate in Scotland. He told Premier that Prince Philip “would note down all the details of the sermon.” He added that Philip “had a wonderful knowledge of the Bible, and then he would sort of quiz you at lunchtime, ask you about your sermon and really put you on your mettle.”

Rev. Bradley stated: “I was amazed at his biblical knowledge. I mean, we sat up one evening, talked almost far into the night about biblical references to the environment, his great interest, of course. He was very well steeped in the Bible.”

Many of us were unfamiliar with Prince Philip’s faith or Judge Cleland’s decision in favor of religious freedom. But our lack of knowledge makes these stories no less real. We serve a God who “sees in secret” (Matthew 6:6) and “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

In other words, God is working to advance his kingdom in ways we may not see. We should never judge his omniscience by our fallen minds (Isaiah 55:8-9) or his omnipotence by our finitude (Matthew 19:26).

The power of God and a personal confession

In recent days, I have been suggesting a case for Christian optimism based in the fact that it is always too soon to give up on God and that the risen Christ can still do anything he has ever done before. Our problem is that we tend to measure God’s capacities by ours, assuming that we are experiencing all that he is doing.

Ernst Troeltsch, a nineteenth-century liberal Protestant theologian, famously argued by his “principle of analogy” that there is “an essential similarity between our humanity and the humanity of the past period.” This approach to historiography examines reports of the past through the prism of the present. If people don’t walk on water today, Jesus and Peter did not walk on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22-33). If bodies don’t rise from the dead today, Jesus did not rise from the dead.

This mindset affects biblical Christians more than we might think.

In the first church I pastored, a woman came to our Wednesday night prayer meeting with the news that she had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. We prayed fervently for her healing. She returned in three weeks with the news that the cancer was gone. I will confess to you my first thought: I was glad the doctors got it wrong.

A young pastor complained to Charles Spurgeon that people were not responding to his sermons. Spurgeon said, “You don’t expect them to respond every time you preach, do you?” The young man assured the great preacher that he did not. Spurgeon replied, “That’s why they do not.”

“I began to suspect that life itself has a plot”

With God, we often get what we expect. Not because our faith limits God in any way, but because our faith limits our capacity to receive all that God intends to give.

It is hard to pray for miracles if we don’t expect miracles. It is hard to obey the word of God if we don’t expect God to keep his word.

Oswald Chambers was right: “Thank God it is gloriously and majestically true that the Holy Ghost can work in us the very nature of Jesus if we will obey him.” But we must obey him. 

Chambers added: “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” If the second phrase is true for us, the first is irrelevant.

The Secret Service agent who saved a president

Jerry Parr was nine years old when he saw the 1939 film, Code of the Secret Service. The actor playing agent Brass Bancroft was a young man named Ronald Reagan. At that moment, Parr dreamed of becoming a Secret Service agent.

Parr went on to achieve his dream. Reagan went on to become president of the United States.

On March 30, 1981, Parr was escorting Reagan to his limousine outside the Washington Hilton hotel when an assailant opened fire. After shoving the president into the car, Parr made the decision to take him to George Washington University Hospital. First Lady Nancy Reagan later credited Parr with saving her husband’s life.

If you and I will stay faithful to the last word we heard from God and open to the next, he will use us in ways we may never anticipate. We cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.

Will you judge God’s capacity to use you by your abilities or by his?

NOTE: I’m honored and grateful to be this year’s keynote speaker at the 57th Annual Louisiana Governor’s Prayer Breakfast this morning. The theme of “Pray Louisiana” is especially appropriate as we respond to a year of unprecedented challenges. If you’d like to watch, you may view the live stream at 7:30 a.m. today on The Louisiana Governor’s Prayer Breakfast Facebook page.

Publication date: April 13, 2021

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Fantom rd

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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Day 3: The Walking Christians

Long before the pandemic, the church in Venezuela was experiencing a complex and difficult situation.

The worsening economic crisis has led more than 5 million people to flee the country, where food and medicine are hard to come by and inflation is skyrocketing. Electricity availability and internet access are also spotty. According to mobile broadband speed and browsing statistics, Venezuela ranks 139th, above only Afghanistan and Palestine.

In a global pandemic, with 95 percent of public transportation unavailable, and gas inaccessible for many, how can the people be fed? How can they gather for Sunday services?

Yet the church has persevered. Pastors on the ground report an unexpected growth of new believers who have arrived tired and in need of a loving Father who brings peace, comfort, and rest for their hearts in the midst of their affliction. Although there is no transportation or internet, people are walking for hours in order to gather together and hear the Word of God.

Ways to Pray:

  1. Thank God for the spiritual transformation of the church in Venezuela, for the many who have turned from the prosperity gospel to the true gospel of grace
  2. For provision for the brothers and sisters who are experiencing hunger and hardship in the country, and the many who have fled to Colombia, Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and other countries
  3. For a miracle of renewal and peace in Venezuela, for God to soften the hearts of the authorities and bring many to the gospel

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17–18

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Repentance vs. Regret

How do I know if I’m experiencing true repentance over my sin or if I just regret the consequences?

It’s a familiar question for this pastor, and one I know from experience. Regret so easily masquerades as repentance. Both carry similar initial postures, but confusing them can be devastating.

Regret and repentance are readily mixed up because they often begin in the same spot––pain. To distinguish between the two, it’s helpful to compare Simon Peter and Judas, two disciples with vastly differing responses to having failed Jesus.

Two men. Two failures. Two paths––one leading to transformation and fresh faith, the other leading to despair and death. What made the difference?

Peter and Judas

When Peter disowned Jesus—even after declaring himself incapable—his willful heart choices caused regret (Luke 22:33, 57). We see similar regret with Judas, who realized he betrayed innocent blood and sought to rectify it with particular actions. It seems one difference, then, was whether or not they believed they could be forgiven.

Scripture reports that Peter wept bitterly at his betrayal, deeply grieved and distressed over his sin (Luke 22:62). And yet, by God’s grace, the Spirit turned him to hope (John 21:15–19). His surrender was so all-encompassing that he was able to believe his error was not fatal; in fact, it was redeemable. In contrast, when Judas cast down the 30 pieces of silver and was met with indifference, he had no hope that he could be forgiven, and committed an act of final despair (Matt. 27:3).

Both men essentially asked the same question, How could God possibly forgive me for my sin against Jesus?

Regret so easily masquerades as repentance.

We’re asking that, too. So how can we distinguish between prideful frustration or arrogant self-loathing at having given in to sin, versus a permitted sorrow intended to woo us to God? How do we know we’re moving toward transformation and hope rather than toward despair? And how does Jesus help us answer that question?

Pain Points the Way

When we choose to act misaligned with the gospel, a common firstfruit is embarrassment or self-condemnation. This pain often puts us on the path to shame, and that shame becomes either an end in itself or a means to an end.

Godly grief has its place—but for a believer, grief over sin can never be a destination; rather, it’s a tunnel through the mountain. We don’t stay there; we cast our guilt on Jesus because he asks for it and promises to deal with it once and forever (John 3:17; Heb. 12:2; 1 John 2:1).

When traveling, no one wants to stay in a tunnel. But the darkness there can make the beauty of the vista on the far side sweeter.

Path Splits

Peter’s response after succumbing to sin is brokenness and humility. Judas’s response is embarrassment at his weakness, as well as unbelief in God’s willingness or ability to forgive and redeem. How tragically ironic that Judas betrayed the One who actually came for betrayers, the One in whom the betrayal was forgivable. Judas didn’t seem to have any other paradigm than hoping in his own righteousness, standing on his own record. Once he lost his record, he felt he had nowhere to stand. And so Judas chose to never face another day.

For a believer, grief over sin can never be a destination; rather, it’s a tunnel through the mountain.

We all arrive at this choice: the rooster crows, and we’re revealed as broken sinners yet again. Depending on personality, circumstances, and how well we’re resting in Christ’s finished work, our knee-jerk reaction may be guilt and shame all over again. But instead we hope to make the choice of Peter—to allow sin to break our heart but not our faith.

As we move further into the gospel of grace, the noise of the rooster’s crow will sound less like a squawk of failure and more like a song of mercy.

Repentance Leads to Life

Repentance says, “I want to stand on Christ’s record of righteousness and not my own.” It trusts that your failures, no matter the extent, are not fatal—and that the only failure ultimately is to not surrender your fears, guilt, shame, sorrow, and sin to the love and goodness of Jesus.

Repentance is not what especially bad Christians do; repentance is the normal Christian life.

Repentance is not what especially bad Christians do; repentance is the normal Christian life. It’s acknowledging that God expects us to sin more than we expect ourselves to sin. Our proper response to the knowledge he already has is to swallow our pride and once again be reminded that we aren’t him. Only he is God; we are a broken and deeply loved people before him.

Repentance doesn’t ultimately fix us. It’s simply how broken people, with broken lives, inhabit a broken world until Christ takes us home––all the while experiencing substantial healing and transformation from the God who longs to be in relationship with us. And there’s not a thing to regret about that.

A Sight That Hasn’t Occurred in Eight Centuries: The Key to Experiencing the Power of the King

A Sight That Hasn’t Occurred in Eight Centuries: The Key to Experiencing the Power of the King

An event is coming on the evening of December 21 that last occurred on March 4, 1226. According to Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan, that was the last time Jupiter and Saturn were as closely aligned in the night sky as they will be later this month.

In eighteen days, the two will appear to us like a double planet separated by only one-fifth the diameter of the full moon. This won’t happen again until March 15, 2080, and then sometime after the year 2400.

Even though these planets will appear as small dots in our sky, they are actually huge. In fact, you could fit seven hundred Earths inside Saturn. Jupiter is even larger: you could fit thirteen hundred Earths—or one of each of the planets in our solar system—inside it.

Actually, you could not do any of that, of course. Neither could I. But the Christ of Christmas could.

The Bible says that by Jesus “all things were created, in heaven and on earth” (Colossians 1:16). This, however, is not how most people in our culture picture him. A baby in a manger, a teacher and healer, even a man dying on a cross or rising from the grave—we see him more as creature than Creator; one of us rather than King of us.

And that’s a problem.

The only ‘sin’ left in our culture

The Bible calls Jesus “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16). The prophet told the people of Jerusalem, “Behold, your king is coming to you” (Zechariah 9:9), a prediction fulfilled with Jesus’ triumphal entry (Matthew 21:1-11). Our Lord later told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

However, most of us don’t like kings. Americans staged a war for independence to rid ourselves of one. We are fascinated by the British royal family as cultural icons, but few in America would want them to function as actual monarchs with authority over our daily lives.

As John Piper notes, the “age-old enslavement of the fallen human heart” takes three forms: self-deification (“I will be my own god”), self-definition (“I will define my own essential identity”), and self-determination (“I will decide my own truth and my own morality, without deference to any authority outside myself”).

I have often said that in our culture, God is not a king but a hobby. We have separated Sunday from Monday, the spiritual from the secular, religion from the “real world.” Religion, like other hobbies, is what we do with our discretionary time. Just as we would never force our hobbies on others, requiring them to like golf or country music, we must never force our religion on others. Or so we’re told.

Our secular culture will permit you to be a religious person so long as you keep your religion to yourself. But if you begin making your faith the ruling dimension of your life and encouraging others to do the same, you’ll be accused of intolerance. And intolerance is the only “sin” left in our culture.

How is this fact relevant to our weeklong search for ways to experience Jesus more powerfully during this season? Because the Christ of Christmas reigns as king today, it stands to reason that we cannot know him intimately unless we make him our king and invite others to do the same.

To work in his fields, sit at his feet

I once heard the famous preacher Frederick Sampson tell about spending a summer on his uncle’s farm. His first day, his uncle rousted him out of his bed in the hayloft at four in the morning and got him busy mucking out stalls, sweeping floors, chopping wood, heating water, and doing whatever else the house and barn required.

Finally, Fred was done. He started back up the ladder to the hayloft to go back to sleep. His uncle asked where he was going. Fred said, “I’ve finished my work.” His uncle bent down, put his finger in Fred’s face, and said, “I’m going to tell you something, and don’t you ever forget it. What you do around the house is chores. What you do in the fields is work.”

Fred told this story to make the valuable point that time spent serving the institution of the church, while important, is not the work of evangelism and ministry that we are called to do in the “fields” (cf. Matthew 9:38). However, I would offer this observation as well: unless we spend time in the “house” of the Lord, we will not have his power when we go to the fields. 

Before Jesus sent his disciples out into ministry (Matthew 10:5), he first “gave them authority” to do their work (v. 1). Before we can work in his fields, we must sit at his feet.

How to get along with God

In the context of today’s article, this means that we begin every day by making Jesus the king of our lives for that day. As fallen humans, our default position is to be king of our own lives. We must consciously and intentionally submit ourselves to Jesus as the king of every dimension of our lives by submission to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

As I once heard a pastor say, “If you want to get along with God, stay off his throne.”

If you insist on living as your own master, you are responsible for your own needs, protection, and purpose in life. But if you say to God, “I am your servant” (Psalm 143:12), making Jesus the king of your life and day, you will experience an intimacy, power, and abundance you can find nowhere else. And others will be drawn to your King.

Oswald Chambers claimed: “When we choose deliberately to obey him, then, with all his almighty power, he will tax the remotest star and the last grain of sand to assist us.” 

Even Jupiter and Saturn.

NOTE: For more, see my latest video, “What does the Bible say about the power of God’s Spirit?

Publication date: December 3, 2020

Photo courtesy: Reimund Bertrams/Pixabay

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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